13 October 2006 | Squonkamatic
Another Better-Than-Average Spaghetti Euro War Thriller
Maurizio Lucidi's PROBABILITY: ZERO has a lot of things going for it. "Mistar Ice" Henry Silva -- who did not age between 1969 and 1989, apparently -- leads a misfit commando squad on what somewhat predictably becomes a suicide mission behind German lines to infiltrate & destroy an impregnable Nazi fortress using a recycled torpedo. Gritty commando raids, some brutal small-unit battle scenes, convincing scuba combat footage and a grim overtone of doom for those involved make this one somewhat less of a cartoon Spaghetti Western with tanks and more of a "conventional" war movie: The subject is treated with a kind of seriousness that fans of war movies in general will find quite satisfactory.
The movie's plot also touches on most of the traditional Spaghetti War formula topics in a manner that Ernesto Gastaldi would have been proud of: We get the obligatory Commando Raid Against All Odds theme, a Devil May Care Squad Leader a bit too dedicated to his mission to the point where his motivations become ambiguous, the Seemingly Washed-Up Team Members he puts his faith in who must overcome personal demons to prove effective at their assignments, the Mata Hari-Like Femme Fatale who must use her beauty & body to help defeat the enemy, the Heroic Sacrifice Scene where one of the team members has to make a decision between his own life and the completion of the mission, the Impregnable Fortress Objective with it's allied victory stultifying WMD that needs to be neutralized lest the Nazis win, the War is Hell Sequence where the arbitrary cruelty of war is brought home to the viewer, the Ruthless Commander Intermission where an otherwise sympathetic officer is forced to kill against his wishes to ensure the safety of others, the Good Guys Dressed Up In Nazi Uniforms Flourish, which always look a bit too good on them (even Captain Kirk fell victim to that plot device at one point), and a fittingly somber & downbeat ending to emphasize that this was only one episode in a war that cost millions on both sides their lives; The mission may be over but the battle continues, and War Is Hell.
PROBABILITY ZERO's production standards are surprisingly high, with weapons, locations and sets all having a feel of authenticity to them. Doubtlessly filmed in Spain & Italy, the movie covers some familiar ground to those who have seen their share of Spaghetti Westerns or other Euro War potboilers: One valley in particular is recognizable as being the same one used in THE GRAND DUEL and TEPAPA to name just two which come to mind sitting here typing. The acting is universally competent, with an ensemble cast all hitting the right notes rather than one or two standout stars stealing the show. Henry Silva's rather sinister air of duality is well suited to his role as a commando leader who must keep his attention focused on their mission rather than the team's well being, and his final exit scene is actually quite fitting. Kind of puts a lump in your throat, and who wants a war movie with a happy ending? War Is Hell, after all.
The music by veteran genre composer Carlo Rustichelli moderates between stirring odes to the film's martial themes and more pensive, thoughtful organ sections fitting of the more bleak aspects of the costs of war. And Dario Argento's screenplay is also appropriately convoluted, with double crosses, hatred rivalries between comrades, somewhat scintillating exploitation, and the kind of romanticized droll posturing dialog that one might expect from an Italian Spaghetti B-movie actioner. Some decent talent and a bit more money than usual was sunk into this project, including above average title design during the opening credits. Such may not seem like that big of a deal but usually these potboilers went about the low-cost, no frills route, and it is revealing of the film's attempt at prestige to see a title sequence that brings to mind those of Sergio Leone.
All in all this would be another good starting point for traditional war movie buffs in looking at the Italian Euro War boom from 1967 - 1970 or so. Only about 50 to 75 examples of the form were made and most of them were content to be entertainments rather than statements about the conflict, the men/women who fought it, and the price they paid to defeat the scourge of Fascism. Here is one that does, and like some of the better examples -- SALT IN THE WOUND, THE WAR DEVILS, A PLACE IN HELL, DESERT COMMANDOS -- has stood the test of time well enough to be evaluated on it's own terms rather than as just an extension of a fad.
And, it stars Henry Silva. 'nuff said.